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County Treasurer Speaks Out

November 2009
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By Mony Shadia

Orange County Treasurer Chriss Street is recommending that the county enter into a Joint Powers Agreement with the city of Costa Mesa to buy the Orange County Fairgrounds.

In an interview Friday, Street said that a joint agreement between the county and city would work to benefit the people of Orange County, while also ensuring transparency.

“If it was bought under this scenario, the board would be subject to transparency requirements [under] the Brown Act,” Street said, adding that it’s what people have been asking for.

Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a special closed-session meeting Tuesday with its real estate property negotiator to discuss the terms of the request for proposal issued by the state for the sale of the fairgrounds.

The county began weighing the purchase of the 150-acre fairgrounds in Costa Mesa last month, when the Board of Supervisors voted to establish an ad hoc committee comprising Supervisors John Moorlach and Bill Campbell. Through exploring a purchase, the county is trying to keep the property intact as a fairground.

Under a joint agreement, Street said, a board would be set up and made up of seven members: the county treasurer, the county auditor-controller, three members appointed by the city of Costa Mesa and two by the county, in order to ensure that meetings are held before the public. Once the Joint Powers Agreement is signed and made official, it would become known as a Joint Powers Authority, Street said.

“It would be the people of the county’s fair, but a Joint Powers Agreement is a common operation that seeks to unite rather than have one dominant faction,” he said.

As for financing the purchase of the fairgrounds — to which Street kept referring in the interview as “Orange County’s Greatest Park” — he suggests that a self-sufficient bond would allow the joint authority to buy the property by authorizing the treasurer’s office to present a bid for $25 million to the state, which is what he says the fairgrounds is worth. Street said he believes that the fairgrounds, as it is, brings in enough revenue that could pay for the interest and the principal on the bond over a 25-year period.

Although many, including the city of Costa Mesa, have asked that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cancel the proposed sale, Street said, “with the state’s desperate financial situation, I would be surprised if they withdrew the offer to sell now that the process has gone so far down the road.”

In October, the state put the fairgrounds up for sale in an effort to plug a hole in its budget deficit, after the state Assembly authorized its sale in July. The state is hoping to fetch between $96 million and $180 million from the sale.


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